Article: HOPE AMIDST IMPENDING PERSECUTION | Jacob Varghese
For this meditation, I have taken two scripture portions. First of all, let us open the Bible and look at I Peter 1:3-5 “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to His great mercy has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of the Jesus Christ from the dead, to obtain an inheritance which is imperishable and undefiled and will not fade away, reserved in heaven for you, who are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation
ready to be revealed in the last time.”
Next one is Acts 26:6-7 “And now it is because of my hope in what God has promised our ancestors that I am on trial today. This is the promise our twelve tribes are hoping to see fulfilled as they earnestly serve God day and night. King Agrippa, it is
because of this hope that these Jews are accusing me.
Recently in one of my conversation with our Pastor and other brothers, we have discussed about the present and impending persecution. What if persecution were to come upon us? What if, because we are believers in Christ, direct challenges were to come at us? Such challenges, and such troubles that we would be shaken from our routines and schedules and activities. What if the culture we live in would start to tell us, “Hey, you Christians, stop! It is time you either abandon this manner of faith in which you live or this doctrine you have embraced, otherwise we are going to deal with you harshly!
The first portion we read, Peter wrote this to his fellow-believers in Christ and gave them words of hope, words that they needed to take in and lean upon in times of persecution, in times when they were going to be challenged to change their beliefs or go through/ bear with the consequences.
I am being reminded what Jesus told His disciples: “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). He promised that if we follow Him, we will be persecuted. But what does that mean?
In the second portion, if we read Acts 26 fully, we see Paul is on trial for what he did in walking into the temple. This morning we would have different answers why Paul is on trial. If you were to ask the Jewish people why Paul is on trial, they would have said that he is on trial because he has violated the Jewish law. He brought a Gentile into the temple which he is not allowed to do so. He is steering people away from the hope that is in Moses and in the law and in the prophets. He is pointing the people to Jesus.
If you were to ask the Romans why Paul was on trial, they would have said Paul is on trial because he is creating disturbance and chaos in the city—both Caesarea and Jerusalem. But the fascinating thing is the way that Paul, with his very own words,
tells us why he is on trial. Listen to what he says. He is appearing before King Agrippa, who oversees the whole region for Rome, and he is saying in his defence. Now I stand here on trial because of my HOPE in the promise made by God to our fathers. I am on trial because of the HOPE that I have.
For some of us it may turn out to be exactly like Paul where we are literally on trial— we may go in that direction in this country, I don’t know. But all of us will find ourselves at some point in life where we have to give a defence of our hope. Are we the type of people who have a hope that sustains in the dark and difficult days of our life OR are we people who have a hope that’s short-lived and momentary? It is for sure we will stand trial for our hope. The question is will there be enough evidence of our hope in the Lord. Will there be enough evidence to convict you of being a person of hope.
Let me come back to what we have read in I Peter 1:3-5. “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When I read this, I felt strange about this, because we typically talk about God blessing people, not people blessing God. But in the Bible when I tried to learn and understand, the language of blessing is far more often directed from people to God than from God to people. In some versions of the Bible we read it as “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!” But the truth is that we bless God as receivers, not as givers. When God blesses people, it is God filling up some kind of lack/ deficiency in us. When we bless God, it is recognizing that everything that we have is given by God. We don’t have any scarcity or shortage in life. God has blessed us and we respond in worship with thanksgiving.
Why are we blessing the father? Why are we praising God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? What are the reasons to bless the father? In the read portion Peter is giving us few reason to ponder.
1. He is the father of endless mercy
2. He has caused us to be born again –Father’s great mercy made us to have a new birth. Unless a man is born again, he can’t even see the kingdom of God. What does it mean? This means – no matter what ever we accomplish, whatever we do, or how nice we think we are- we cannot see or enter the kingdom.
1. He has given us a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. So our new birth is to a living hope.
2. We are born again to an immeasurable inheritance. Imperishable- A living inheritance; undefiled- Untouched by Sin; unfading- which will not diminish the value.
Who gets this inheritance?
The sons and daughters (we are the sons and daughters)
We are family
It means Jesus is our father and we inherit the inheritance of Jesus, God the son. This inheritance is kept for us in Heaven.
3. He is guarding us through our faith for a glorious revealing. He is guarding us for a salvation, ready to be revealed in the last time. It is an irreversible inheritance. It is a permanent inheritance. It is an everlasting and eternal inheritance.
From all these we learn a few truths:
1. Every single person who comes to faith in Jesus Christ will be saved. We see in Bible, Paul says to Philippians, “I am sure of this, He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”
2. Only those who persevere in Faith to the end will be finally saved. Colossians 1:21-23 says “Once we were alienated from God and were enemies in our minds because of our evil behaviour. But now He has reconciled us by Christ’s physical body through death to present us holy in His sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if we continue in our faith, established and firm, and do not move from the hope held out in the gospel. This is the gospel that we heard and that has been proclaimed to every creature under heaven, and of which Paul, has become a servant.
Characteristics of our Christian Hope
1 It is a sure hope, it is a living hope. We are not putting our hope in this world. If we place our hope in this world, then it is a dying hope as the hope of this world is perishing hope. We all know our salvation comes from God, begins with God, our salvation is secured by God through the blood of Jesus. Our salvation is completed by God through Holy Spirit. This salvation is confirmed by God through the resurrection of Jesus.
2. It is an eternal hope
3. It is an Eternal Hope- it continues through bad times. Satan tempts us, the world lures and attracts us, our flesh battles with in us but God’s power is stronger and we are protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
After knowing and understanding all these let us come to Acts chapter 26. Paul goes on in this chapter of Acts in his defence in front of King Agrippa to give us some ways that we can see the hope that’s in his soul coming out in his life. These are evidences of hope. These are things that the judges would look at and say yes, this guy is a hopeful person. I want to tell you that there are things that should come
out of our lives too, if we are people of hope. Acts 26 teaches us that Jesus not only called Paul, but He also commissioned him to spread the news of His resurrection to Jews and Gentiles and to bring them to understanding so that they would turn from darkness to light, be released from Satan’s power, receive forgiveness of sins, and have a place among those sanctified by faith.
Paul is sharing how the Lord had met him on the road to Damascus and commissioned him to take the gospel to the heathen. Paul is making his defence before King Agrippa. We know in Bible, Jesus had warned His disciples that they would be brought before magistrates and kings, but that it would give them a chance to witness.
End of the chapter after Paul’s testifying before King Agrippa, we see what Agrippa says to Paul, “In a short time you almost convinced me/ persuaded me to be a Christian?” And Paul said, in verse 29, “Whether short time or long, I pray to God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”
In Titus 1:1 – we read about Paul, a slave of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ. I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives.
Here, Paul’s preaching was to persuade Agrippa to be a Christian. Yes, this was Paul’s goal and his mission. After hearing Agrippa’s response Paul spoke these profound words “I pray to God that not only you but also all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains. Paul’s attitude and focus are most clearly revealed in this statement.
In 1 Peter 3:14-16 the apostle writes, “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defence to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who insult your good behaviour in Christ may be put to shame.” Those words are as important today as they were when Peter wrote them. How do you respond in such situations? Will you respond with gentleness and reverence to those that are slandering you and treating you unjustly?
In this meditation we learn Paul’s testimony before King Agrippa. This is one of the most comprehensive testimonies that Paul gives and therefore a good model for us to follow when we tell others what Jesus Christ has done in our lives. Paul wanted to take advantage of every opportunity to proclaim Jesus Christ regardless of how he was personally treated.